Intelligent automation • Software-defined manufacturing • Viewpoints

The Future of the Industry Lies with Software-defined Manufacturing

Nearly every industry has experienced dramatic shifts since the start of the Industry 4.0 revolution when modern technology solutions started chipping away at once-traditional physical processes. Both the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can be thanked for improvements that have enhanced our daily lives and how our businesses operate, with IIoT amplifying integration across the industrial sector, specifically so that machines used on the factory floor have a foundation of connectivity that wasn’t previously possible.   

Yet, many manufacturers have largely remained hardware-centric, or in some long, strange, trip of hacking together IIoT sensors to work with legacy machines. Even when they’ve started pulling in software and digitizing systems, it’s primarily focused on design, engineering, or supply chain operations rather than physical ones. That’s because marrying information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) has been historically limited due to large, expensive machines that are often inflexible. Quite often, the production is halfway around the world from the design & engineering teams, creating “hidden factories” and re-work loops that are rarely seen by the folks that need to know; but that’s all changing with intelligent solutions like Bright Machines Microfactories, which leverage decades of deep software and manufacturing process expertise, with flexibility, scalability, and traceability built in right from the start.   

Introducing software-defined manufacturing  

Simply put: OT cannot lag behind IT because there cannot be one without the other. For one, without the operational hardware, the value of the information is decreased—and in the world of manufacturing, what good is information if operations cannot shift in response to it? 

That brings us to software-defined manufacturing, a different approach that leverages hardware designed to be adapted by the software that runs it. We build systems centering logic, intelligence, and physical configurations in the software instead of the hardware. We tell the machines what to do with a GUI, and the machines raise their hand if they think something is wrong. This directly addresses the long-standing problem that manufacturers have experienced for decades: inherently inflexible hardware. That’s why Bright Machines solutions leverage computer vision, machine learning, and robotics to create intelligent production lines, which allows manufacturers to more easily configure, replicate, and scale automation on the factory floor and create greater transparency and accessibility across the rest of their operations. 

What balanced IT/OT convergence looks like 

Here’s what balanced IT/OT convergence – made possible with software-defined manufacturing – can provide manufacturers:   

  • Increased resiliency: Microfactories, powered by the Brightware Platform, provide complete, programmable assembly lines that are designed to enable manufacturers to build more units at a lower cost and with higher quality. With this, manufacturers can experience greater adaptability by gaining the ability to adjust the types of data they monitor on the plant floor. This strengthens their decision-making process by understanding where there are opportunities to improve production lines, for example. Manufacturers can then pivot when the unpredictable occurs, proactively address issues, improve production, and uphold operational resiliency.  
  • Enhanced efficiency: If a manufacturer needs to program an assembly line to accommodate a quick turn change order, or if they need to build multiple SKUs on the same line without changing out equipment, they can do so easily and quickly. Brightware Studio, for example, enables technicians to make modifications without complex programming or expensive change orders, which can be accessed on the microfactory’s touch screen display or via a browser on the local factory network.
  • Improved sustainability: Microfactories leverage programmable building blocks that can be quickly configured to form flexible, scalable assembly lines. This allows manufacturers to ramp production up or down based on actual demand to reduce waste, and if they move operations closer to the end customer and build smart factories, they can significantly reduce emissions associated with the global supply chain as well.

When manufacturers allow their digital properties and their machinery to not only connect but truly communicate, the possibilities are endless. The future of manufacturing requires both IT and OT to be in lockstep, and that’s what software-defined manufacturing enables. 

Interested in learning more? Reach out to our team today to begin the conversation.


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